Jack Neal was diagnosed in 1979 with Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS.
Jack O'Neil: "The prognosis indicated that I had between two and five years to - live. Gradually I didn't have strength to do anything move my hands or my arms."
In ALS, the nerve cells of the spine that control muscle movements selectively die. Now researchers at the University of California, San Diego, may have discovered why this happens in one rare, inherited form of the disease.
Neuroscientist Don Cleveland reported in the journal Neuron that the nerve cells die when structures, called mitochondria become damaged. A faulty molecule in the cell disrupts the mitochondria's energy production needed for cells to survive.
Don Cleveland: "It only damages these mitochondria in the cells that are ultimately going to die from this disease."
Neurobiologist Serge Przedborski thinks that although interesting, it's too soon to tell if it applies to other types of ALS.
Serge Przedborski, MD: "We have no idea at this point really if, as significant as it can be, whether it may mean anything to the vast majority of our patients."
Cleveland and his colleagues agree there is still work to be done to identify the causes of the more common form of ALS.
Don Cleveland: "Using the genetics as the starting point leads us to propose new therapies, therapeutic approaches, and we have every reason to believe that they would be useful in the cases which do not have a proven genetic linkage."